Does your poker career feel stuck?
You’ve been playing in the same low- and mid-stakes games for what seems like forever, and your once achievable poker goals now seem like pipe dreams. Your love for the game keeps you playing, but it’s starting to feel pointless.
You are not the only one.
Doug Polk was feeling the same way about his poker journey back in 2007 — before his online success and WSOP bracelets. Desperate for help, he posted on TwoPlusTwo:
Feeling stuck is a problem that plagues a ton of aspiring poker pros, and how you choose to handle it may make or break your poker career.
Over the next ten years, Doug chose to rededicate himself to the game he loved. His newfound commitment to improvement saw him rise through the stakes to become one of the most successful players around today. For him, it was this post which marked a turning point in his journey.
So, how can you turn yours around?
1. Try to Improve Your Game Every Day
You should always be on the lookout for ways to improve your game. I’ve met a number of players that felt confident enough about their skills to quit studying poker strategy altogether — they figured it was just a matter of grinding out the volume until the winnings came in.
This line of thinking is flawed and dangerous. Poker is not a solved game — not even computers have completely figured it out yet. There is not a single player in the world that has truly ‘learned all they need to know’ about poker strategy.
The best players who are at the top of the game still demonstrate a strong willingness to learn, even after achieving success.
There are countless ways to improve your game, like chatting with poker-playing friends, running simulations, or observing the plays you witness at the table.
Set yourself a goal to learn something new about poker every day. Achieve that goal by approaching your game objectively, being self-critical, and welcoming advice from other players and sources.
2. Take Bankroll Management Seriously
In a game where you need money in order to make money, busting your entire bankroll is a complete disaster. It is imperative you stay responsible and smart when it comes to bankroll management.
Poker is a variance-filled game, so you need to play at limits where your bankroll – as well as your emotions – can handle the swings. Specifically:
- Cash game players should have around 50 buy-ins for their chosen game
- Tournament players should have 250-500 of their average buy-in
These are estimates, as the proper bankroll varies wildly based on the specific game you’re playing. The higher the variance of your chosen game, the more buy-ins you need (e.g. you need more than 500 buy-ins for turbo tournaments).
Move the egos aside – if you have to play $1 tournaments to stay within your limits, there is absolutely no shame in doing so. The bigger games will still be there when your bankroll is ready for them.
Poker is a marathon, not a sprint.
(Note: If you’re enjoying this look into the Upswing Lab, why not check out the whole thing for yourself? Learn more about the Lab and check out Doug Polk’s video walk through by clicking HERE or below.)
3. Work Hard Away from the Table
You need to work extremely hard to reach the top of the poker world.
For the truly committed this means playing, studying, watching, talking, living and breathing poker. These are the ways which Doug dedicated himself to achieve his dreams and you should do the same if you are serious about a future in the game.
Surrounding yourself with like-minded people is a great way to improve, and help others improve as well.
If you play live, try to be friendly with some of the other regulars. Talk about hands and bounce ideas off of each other, but make sure you do it away from the table where your opponents can’t hear.
If you’re an online player, consider joining a study group with players around your skill level. Doug swears by Skype study groups as they were the source of many of his poker revelations.
Almost everybody prefers playing poker to studying it, but doing the latter will make the former a much more profitable and enjoyable experience. After learning a new concept and effectively applying it at the poker table, you’ll feel much more confident about your game.
4. Keep Your Head Up
Downswings can feel endless and relentless. Losing weeks turn into losing months, and you can barely remember what it feels like to book a win.
You have to learn to compartmentalize these downswings if you want to last in poker. It is much harder to play your best poker when a big losing session still weighs heavy on your mind.
Instead of dwelling on the past, focus on the present and make good strategic decisions that you can be proud of. There’s no reason to beat yourself up when you make good decisions, even if the chips ultimately didn’t go your way.
Keep your head up, stay positive and it’ll only be a matter of time before you’re back on an upswing.
5. Focus On One Game Type
It can be tempting for a tournament player to hop in a high stakes cash game to try to get unstuck, just like it can be tempting for a cash game player to fire a bunch of tournaments on Sunday. This is fine if you’re a successful and confident player, but struggling players need to stay laser-focused on their game type of choice.
Most players that find huge success in poker focus on a single game type. Consider these guys, who have all been considered the best of their game type at some point:
- Doug Polk – focused on heads-up and eventually, not a single player in the world would face him
- OtB_RedBaron – focuses on 6-max cash games and consistently books the biggest years of any 6-max player
- Phil Hellmuth – basically plays the WSOP (and similar made-for-TV events) for a living and his results speak for themselves (see: How Good is Phil Hellmuth Really?)
That’s just to name a few. Pretty good company, imo.
Doug’s Poker Journey to Un-Stuck
If there’s anything we can learn from Doug’s story, it’s that motivation and dedication pay off in the long run. The proof is evident by looking at the timeline of his career since that TwoPlusTwo post in 2007:
- 2007-2012: Doug gradually climbed his way up the stakes playing online, transitioning to become a heads-up specialist along the way. Bouncing back from a brutal downswing (which included Black Friday) in 2011, a very profitable 2012 saw him become widely regarded as one of the best heads-up players in the game.
- 2013: Doug beat Ben “Sauce123” Sulsky in a 50,000 hands heads-up challenge. He walked away with $740,000 in addition to a $100,000 side bet.
- 2014: Doug’s breakout year for live tournaments with total winnings of over $3 million — including his first WSOP bracelet win, a super high roller event win for $1.65 million and a deep run at Aussie Millions for $770,000
- 2015: Doug led a team of heads-up specialists to victory over poker bot Claudico in the first ‘Brains vs AI’ challenge. The team received $100,000 for their accomplishment. This year also marked the birth of Upswing Poker.
- 2016: Doug partnered up with fellow Upswing co-founder Ryan Fee to win his second WSOP bracelet in the Tag Team event. Along with this live success, he took down the PokerStars Kilimanjaro event for $162,000 whilst streaming it on Twitch to set a record for the most money ever won on stream. To top it off, he shipped his first ever SCOOP title in May with a $115,000 win.
- 2017: Doug set another streaming record, this time on YouTube where he won $271,272 after in a $5,200 buy-in tournament on PartyPoker. He followed that up with a win in the prestigious $111,111 One Drop event for $3.6 million and a third WSOP bracelet.
If you demonstrate a drive for success like Doug did post-2007, it could be you winning all of the WSOP bracelets in a couple of years.
(Note: You can learn poker the right way, from A-to-Z, with help from world class players in The Poker Lab. Click here or below to learn more.)